Becoming A Heart-Centered Leader

Matters of the Heart

Students of leadership will often look at the intellectual attributes of a great leader. We point to great strategy, distinction, winning against the competition.  Leadership is also about matters of the heart.  Susan Steinbrecher and Joel Bennett’s book Heart-Centered Leadership reminds leaders to be mindful, authentic, and caring.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Susan Steinbrecher about her work. Susan is a consultant, mediator, speaker and leads Steinbrecher & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm.

 

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” -Jesse Jackson

 

Leading From the Heart

What is your definition of “Heart-Centered Leadership”?

Heart-Centered Leadership means having the wisdom, courage and compassion to lead others with authenticity, transparency, humility and service.

 

“You lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control.” -Susan Steinbrecher

 

Anyone can be a heart-centered leader if he or she has the determination and daily commitment to practice certain core principles.  The root or basis of these principles is what we call “the power of the human element.”  Two things are required to tap into and unleash the human element.  The first is your ability to listen or, even better, your ability to learn how to listen.  The second is your own willingness to clear personal obstacles, in other words, your own story and organizational obstacles that get in the way of this deeper listening.

 

“If you stand straight, do not fear a crooked shadow.” -Chinese Proverb

 

3 Differences of a Heart-Centered Leader

Off the top of your head, what 3 things are different about a heart-centered leader?

  1. The focus is to serve the people that you are leading, not the other way around.
  2. A heart-centered leader tells the truth.  If you are not able to provide information when asked, you must be willing to explain why you aren’t at liberty to share that information.
  3. A heart-centered leader does not judge or assume, but comes to understand, asking the right questions instead rushing to judgment and assumption.

Our book outlines some key guidelines for heart-centered behavior. But in order for this behavior to be authentic, it has to come from a place of emotional resonance and coherence. You have to believe in what you are doing. It has to resonate with you. Ultimately, a heart-centered leader leads from principles, values, and virtues.

 

“Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening.” -Rumi

 

Encouraging Leaders to Have an Open Mind

How do you encourage leaders to be open-minded?

I ask them to reflect on a time in their career when being open-minded paid big dividends and why.  I also ask them to tell me of a time when they were not open-minded and what happened.  I find that if people can reflect on their own experiences, they can piece together the benefits of being open-minded much faster than me pointing out the rewards of being open-minded.

0615891195Another approach is to ask leaders to imagine how differently they would communicate with an associate if grounded in this key principle: people have positive intentions.  It requires revising certain ways of thinking, such as taking sides in a conflict, and replacing them with healthier habits of mind — observing the perspective of both sides.  It involves identifying and taking responsibility for your own mental tendencies, including an inclination to stereotypes and making snap judgments about what people “should” do.  It also means flexing your empathetic muscle.  As a result, you gain a greater understanding of the causes of atypical behavior and problems that result from that behavior, as well as insight into the best solution.

 

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” -David Starr Jordan

 

Leaders Need to Let Go

Often leaders feel like they need to seize the reigns, and yet you talk about the importance of letting go.  Tell us more about that.

Take Command: Leadership Lessons from A First Responder

Not many of us will face hostile enemy fire in foreign lands.  We won’t lead a team to intervene in humanitarian situations, nor will we need to manage a crisis with lives literally on the line.  Still, the leadership principles from these experiences are adaptable and applicable to all of us.

Jake Wood served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning numerous awards for his distinguished service.  He has been named a 2012 CNN Hero.  In 2010, he co-founded Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization focused on disaster response. The organization gives military veterans a purpose as they intervene in various humanitarian situations.  His new book Take Command: Lessons in Leadership offers a unique perspective on how to lead a team through any situation. 

 

Build a High-Impact Team

How do you build a high-impact team?

I think first you have to understand the critical value of having the right team.  Oftentimes people think that process trumps people; or willpower triumphs over interpersonal dynamics.  That’s just not the case, so understanding the need to build a high-impact team is the first step.

 

“Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.” –Jake Wood

 

I write about five components of building a high-impact team in the book, but I’ll just highlight two.  First, we have a saying at Team Rubicon: Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.  When we’re looking to add team members, we aren’t looking for resumes laden with accolades.  We’re looking for things that demonstrate passion.  We try to start that weeding-out process from the get-go by having really quirky job postings.  We demand that only the most awesome candidates apply and generally warn about how underpaid and overworked any candidate who is accepted will be.  If someone reads that and applies with a resume and cover letter that screams, “Bring it on,” then we’re on the right path.  The second part of that saying though is critical: Culture is king.  Passionate and talented people abound, but are they right for your team?  We’ve had high-output, high-passion people in our organization before who were total cultural misfits.  They proved cancerous to the morale of the organization, and we had to eliminate them despite their talent.  Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.

 

“Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.” –Jake Wood

 

The second thing I’ll highlight in building high-impact teams is roles.  My football coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, always talked about roles.  “Know your role!” he’d scream time and again.  What he meant was that starter or backup, star quarterback or water boy, we each had a role.  Furthermore, each role was critical to the success of the whole–the team.  Some were more high profile, others received more praise, but damn it, if we didn’t have new cleats on our shoes when we went to play in the rain, then nobody was going to succeed.  Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.  When people understand and embrace their own role, they tend to take more pride in its execution and are more likely to hold others around them accountable for the execution of theirs.  That’s a win-win.

 

“Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.” –Jake Wood

 

Cultivate Trust and Transparency

Trust is crucial on the battle field, as a first responder, or in business.  How do you cultivate trust?

When I talk about developing trust, whether from my time in the military or in Team Rubicon and the corporate world, I talk about three things: training, transparency and trials.  When everyone is trained to a common standard, then people feel like they can operate liberally, knowing that everyone around them is competent in the execution of the functions necessary for mutual success.  My time in the sniper teams was a great example of this.  When our team needed to call in close air or artillery support from a unit we’d never met, never worked with and often didn’t speak the same language as us, we needed to know that that unit was trained in the same protocols and to the same standard as we were.  If that wasn’t the case, we might hesitate to call in a life-saving artillery mission, or worse, we might call it in and have an artillery shell land in our foxhole.

cover.takecommandTransparency is critical because it levels the playing field.  When people feel that they have access to the same information as their leadership, they feel like they are empowered to come to the same conclusion.  Secrets naturally breed mistrust.  Naturally, some information within a corporation needs to be held in confidence, but to the extent that information can be shared, why not?

Finally, I often talk about the need for a galvanizing trial or tribulation.  The best teams come together in times of duress.  Those periods reveal what’s necessary from each member and displays each member’s respective worth.  Getting all the chips on the table allows a true assessment of one another, and that’s critical for truly coming together.  The Marine Corps attempts this in boot camp with the “Crucible” exercise, but nothing compares to the first time a unit gets in a firefight.  Doubts about who is capable of what disappear, and suddenly the team is flooded with unwavering trust for one another.

11 Leadership Qualities of Nelson Mandela

 

I didn’t quite know what to expect.

 

I wasn’t sure what I would feel, what I would see, or what I would learn.

Earlier this year, I was visiting Cape Town, South Africa and had the opportunity to visit Robben Island.  Robben Island has been a prison for over 400 years.

 

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society but to change yourself.” -Nelson Mandela

 

Today it is most famous as the place where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison.  As a student of great leaders and an admirer of Nelson Mandela’s leadership, I knew that this visit was a must.

 

A Moving Experience

 

After a brief ferry ride, we boarded a bus to tour Robben Island.

photo-38One of the stops was at the limestone quarry where prisoners toiled in the hot sun.  The work damaged Nelson Mandela’s lungs and also his eyes.  His tear ducts were damaged, preventing him from ever crying again.

Visible in the background is a cave.  This cave was used as a bathroom and the guards almost never approached it.  Our tour guide explained that the cave became a great place of learning and exchanging information.  Some say it held the most important political meetings of the time.

We later drove to the prison where we met our prison tour guide, Ntando Mbatha.  Ntando was a prisoner for seven years at Robben Island.  His story was moving.  Hearing him explain the conditions of the prison first hand will be forever etched in my mind.

I followed him to the cell of Nelson Mandela.  It was small, roughly 7×9.  A thin mat lay in the corner.  It was stark.  There was an unmistakable feeling I cannot quite explain throughout the entire cellblock.

That day, I learned more about the many heroes who fought against apartheid.  Some beaten.  Some killed.

Seeing this all in person increased my admiration for Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela Cell

 

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” –Nelson Mandela

 

Qualities of an Extraordinary Leader

 

Nelson Mandela demonstrated remarkable leadership qualities:

3 Ways to Motivate Your Team

What are the best ways to motivate a team? Are there best practices that managers can use to lead?

 

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I’m always asking people these questions, trying to improve my understanding of team motivation.  Entrepreneur, speaker, and CEO of MyEmployees, David Long, is an expert on motivation and rewards.  His company specializes in helping managers link rewards and recognition to the desired goals of the company.  The firm he founded has been working at this for twenty five years.  His new book, Built to Lead: 7 Management R.E.W.A.R.D.S Principles for Becoming a Top 10% Manager, is David’s view of what it takes to become a Top 10% manager.

I asked David:  what are three ways to best motivate a team?  His answer:

 

Value Opinions

1: Show your employees you value their opinions.
Anytime we seek to improve something in a particular department or process within our company, we always tell the employees what we want to happen.  Then we ask them, “In an ideal world, what changes can we make to improve the process and make your job easier?”  Why do we ask them instead of just telling them what to do?  It’s quite simple really.  We want buy-in to the needed changes being made, and we insure that by involving them and their input.

 

“Success leaves clues.” -Tony Robbins

 

Note: Your front-line employees should always be involved in the process when developing the system in which they are expected to produce and perform.  If they help create the system, it greatly increases the likelihood of them adopting any changes that may be created as a result.  Without that happening, there will definitely be unnecessary resistance.

 

“No man will make a great leader who wants to get all the credit for doing it.” -Andrew Carnegie

 

Recognize Excellent Work

2: Recognize excellence at every opportunity.
Someone once said, “What gets recognized gets repeated.”  You want more innovation within your company, then recognize it.  You want more employees to take ownership of their responsibilities and care about the success of the company as if it were their own, then recognize it!  You want to improve any quantifiable metric of success within your company, such as sales, increased profits, higher dollar per client, then recognize it.

 

Research shows that every employee should be recognized at least once every 7 days.

Lead With Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

On March 13, 2013, 115 cardinals cast votes inside the Vatican to elect the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  At 19:06 local time, white smoke could be seen drifting upwards following the election.  The new pope, who would take the name Pope Francis, emerged from the conclave as the new leader of a global organization facing a number of serious issues.

Stepping onto the world stage, this new pope would inspire everyone with his humility and his concern for the poor.  And, in so doing, he demonstrated a new model for leadership.

 

“Leadership is the ability to articulate a vision and get others to carry it out.” -Jeffrey Krames

 

Jeffrey Krames has written a new book about the pontiff, Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope FrancisHe offers a practical guide for how any leader can take the same principles to become an authentic and humble leader.  I asked Jeff a few questions about his research.

 

Be Authentic.

What is it about Pope Francis that has made him so incredibly popular?

He is absolutely the real thing. I call him “The Authentic Leader.” How rare is that today? No political leaders seem to do anything for the betterment of anyone but themselves, and only after polling the issue. That is the opposite of Pope Francis, who is the most compassionate pope I have experienced in my lifetime. It is why I have dubbed him the “anti-Hitler.”

 

“If we can develop a truly humble attitude, we can change the world.” -Pope Francis

 

 

Advocate for the Least of These

What attracted and inspired you, as a Jewish author, to research and write a book about the new Catholic pope?

The answer above answers this question in part. Growing up in a “Holocaust household” is a very difficult thing to do.  There are ghosts of all the people who have perished (and now my kids must grow up as third generation survivor).  So I see Francis as the first person in my lifetime amazing enough to earn the moniker of the anti-Hitler.  He is the 21st century’s answer to the 20th century’s most malevolent mass-murderer.  Hitler hated and attempted to eradicate what he felt was society’s worst.  Francis works every day to lift up the people who have the least—the ones who have been relegated to “society’s dustbin.”

 

12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

  1.  Lead with Humility.
  2. Smell Like Your Flock.
  3. Who Am I to Judge?
  4. Don’t Change-Reinvent.
  5. Make Inclusivity a Top Priority
  6. Avoid Insularity.
  7. Choose Pragmatism over Ideology.
  8. The Optics of Decision-Making.
  9. Run Your Organization Like a Field Hospital.
  10. Live on the Frontier.
  11. Overcoming vs. Sidestepping Adversity.
  12. Pay Attention to Non-Customers.

 

 

 

Pope Francis continues to gain popularity and press every month.  How will Pope Francis influence leaders in other organizations?